The Inspiration of Scripture
By: Dr. Gregory S. Neal
A few more words on the nature of the Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. Last week we spent some time thinking about what we mean by the very word “Inspiration,” and I made that assertion that we normally use that term regarding how sights, sounds, and ideas motivate us to produce a creative, often artistic, expression of that which inspires us. A painting, a musical composition, a poem, a story ... all of these, and more, may be “inspired” by things that we perceive with our natural senses.
I ask you: do we normally reproduce that which inspires us with precision and stark reality? No, we present our interpretation of that which inspires us. When we want to exactly reproduce that which inspires us, all we have to do is take a photograph or make an audio recording! With any artistic production, however, the idea is to present that which inspires us with the human interpretation serving as an important component in the communication. This is, I believe, far more similar to what we mean by “the Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures,” than are concepts of dictation. Yes, I do believe that we have communications from God in the Holy Scriptures — I believe in Divine Revelation. However, I also believe that much of that communication comes to us through human interpretations, with human words and human grammar and human biases and human agenda, all sometimes sharing equal billing with what God is saying.
So how does this kind of Divine Inspiration actually function in the context of the writing of the Holy Scriptures?
Let’s take the Gospels, and specifically the Gospel of Luke, as our first example. The author of the Gospel of Luke nowhere asserts that he was present at the events which he describes. What he is writing is the product of his research, his scholarship, his pain-staking interviews of those who were present at the events and of those who heard the stories of those who were present at the events. Luke wrote not as an eye-witness but, rather, as a theologian and a faithful historian. He took the written works of those who came before him, particularly the Gospel of Mark and a collection of Jesus’ saying which was also available to Matthew, and he crafted his Gospel in such a way as to present the story of the birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus as he believed it should be presented. This presentation contains Luke’s theological interpretation of the events, along with the theological interpretations of the Community of Faith in which he lived and of the Disciples and Apostles who went before him. All of this is fairly certain, based upon what we see both in Luke’s Gospel and in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew.
So, where does the Inspiration of the Holy Spirit come into play in the writing of Luke’s gospel? I submit to you that it takes center stage as the clear compelling motivation which drove the author to set out to actually write his Gospel, as well as in all of the writings that he used and in the memories and experiences of those whom he interviewed. Indeed, I also believe that inspiration is present even in the theological interpretation of the early Christian Church. Hence, there are many avenues for this kind of inspiration to function without our having to twist the clear character of the Gospels in order to assert that God dictated each and every word to the authors. God inspired them, and the sources they used, and they wrote -- and what they wrote included both inspired material and material that comes from the perspective and the biases and even faulty memories of the authors and the sources. And, even through all of this, the Word of God still comes through with the power to save us.
© 1999, Dr. Gregory S. Neal
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As a popular teacher, preacher, and retreat leader, Dr. Neal is known for his ability to translate complex theological concepts into common, everyday terms. HIs preaching and teaching ministry is in demand around the world, and much of his work can be found on this website. He is the author of several books, including Grace Upon Grace: Sacramental Theology and the Christian Life, which is in its second edition, and Seeking the Shepherd's Arms: Reflections from the Pastoral Side of Life, a work of devotional literature. Both of these books are currently available from Amazon.com.